Radiation (Of Cats and Dragons #2)

Title: Radiation

Author: Carol E. Leever and Camilla Ochlan

Series: Of Cats and Dragons #2

Omen tried to stay out of trouble. Really. But when he and Tormy get the chance, he begs for a quest–and not just any quest, but something huge and important that only he can complete. So Etar, his divine brother, gives him one. Now Omen must hunt down another divine sibling in a world utterly desolate . . .

I liked the second book even better than the first. We get a lot more backstory on Omen, Omen’s family, and Templar. I love how the history is so rich that every story brings questions about a dozen more details. I never thought there was a reason behind the names in Omen’s family, and now I want to see a story about his parents since their lives were at least as interesting as his. And ouch, poor Templar. No wonder he’s always a bit on edge. Although it hasn’t stopped his sense of humor.

The friendship between Omen and Templar continues to be one of my favorite parts, even though in this book it took something of a backseat to Omen’s “epic quest” and an extended adventure for Lilyth, Omen’s sister. Templar and Omen arguing about who exactly is the bad influence on whom was hysterical, as was Templar’s succinct summation of Omen’s quest (quote below review for those wanting to avoid spoilers).

And the new characters were all compelling. I really liked Etar, a younger god that is more or less Omen’s brother. Kyr is just adorable despite his circumstances (and I have to wonder how much Tyrin will be able to influence him, since Tyrin is basically Trouble-capital-T). Tyrin is of course hysterical, especially the “identical twins” routine, or the way he takes things too literally.

Overall this series continues to improve everything I liked about the first book, and I can’t wait for a third. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Templar’s take on the quest:

“So basically what you’re saying is,” Templar stated when Omen had finished, “you wandered into an empty wasteland, got rained on, and came home. And that’s what you call epic?”

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Night’s Gift (Of Cats and Dragons #1)

Title: Night’s Gift

Author: Carol E. Leever and Camilla Ochlan

Series: Of Cats and Dragons #1

Omen Daenoth just wanted to explore the city of Hex, free of guards or responsibilities. But when a pickpocket steals the bracelet that damps his psionic powers, Omen must race against the clock to get it back before his tenuous control slips.

I was intrigued enough by the sample to get the full book, and am so glad I did. I loved this. The banter between Omen and Templar (and later Tormy), the high octane adventure, and the solid worldbuilding made for an excellent read. There’s a lot of history that isn’t explained but only hinted at—like the city of Hex, which makes me curious to see more in this world. I wish Omen’s background got a little more attention (five bloodlines?) but since I read the second book before writing this I know some of it gets covered there.

Also this has one of the best reasons I’ve seen for not accepting consumables from elves: they’re insatiable druggies and have a tendency to lace narcotics into the food/drinks. At least one particular branch of elves.

I like Omen and Templar a lot. They’re both more than human, which leads to some interesting fights. Omen’s psionics and Templar’s magic can put on a flashy show, and their ability to heal damage means they can get into the middle of some intense situations. And it’s not just power—Omen’s clever use of song against the Mer or the way they get the box shows they can approach situations with brain in addition to brawn.

All in all this is a real treat, and I’m certainly going to read it again. From the sample clip I listened to, the audiobook also looks like a worthwhile investment. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Barid’s Story (Dragon Pearl #2)

Title: Barid’s Story

Author: J.F. Mehentee

Series: Dragon Pearl #2

Barid has set up as a blacksmith in a remote village, far from his former home. Waiting. Hoping. He left behind a friend, Noor, who was supposed to join him, but he has no way of knowing if Noor is even alive. And it isn’t safe to go back himself to check. But his life changes drastically when a monk arrives with an offer to come work as a blacksmith for the Dragons . . .

Once again, this story had very solid writing. I dislike the homosexual overtones to the relationship Barid develops with Noor over the years they train together, but I do appreciate Barid himself doesn’t know what to make of things, and tries to keep a lid on it so as not to cause big problems for the both of them. The other aspects of their relationship interest me more—Barid’s initial attempt to idolize Noor turning sour, the way both of them cooperate to push through their training, and how the attempt to help Noor’s father save face backfired.

I was happy at the way that worked out, though. Noor’s father had very specific ideas on who Noor was going to be, and didn’t take Noor himself into consideration. That Noor could succeed in a way that didn’t keep feeding his father’s control over his life was nice.

The warrior culture and training sequences were also fascinating. Kids are pushed very hard to become elite soldiers, but there are rewards as well as punishments, and the focus is about building them to be a team who would die for each other as well as well as their victory.

I do wish the story would’ve delved into Barid’s time at Sudaypur more. I wanted to see more of his life with his daughter, but the introductory scene is just a bracket to the meat of the story, which is the backstory of how he got to Sudaypur at all. Hotsuka has changed some from the previous book, but not all that much, and it’s funny to see the impression he makes from the other side. Especially someone like Barid, who is less than impressed by all the “miracles” and determined to stick to his position.

This stands well enough alone, so even if you didn’t read the first book it would be okay to start here. I rate this book Recommended.

Hotsuka’s Story (Dragon Pearl #1)

Title: Hotsuka’s Story

Author: J.F. Mehentee

Series: Dragon Pearl #1

Hotsuka used to be a Meijin, a celestial entity, the pinnacle of a soul after a multitude of rebirths. But he broke one significant taboo, and now he’s no longer Meijin, but retaining enough of that nature to not be completely Human, either. He’ll have to learn to adapt to the world as a creature in it, both for his own sake and the sake of his son.

It’s always nice to read a story with really solid writing. This one is well-crafted, and the story is also intriguing. Hotsuka (and all the Meijin, really) considers himself the highest form of life, but he’s confronted with the problems no one thinks exists when he makes a series of bad choices and ends up impregnating a human woman.

It’s interesting to see how the relationship happened, and the various consequences Hotsuka suffers because of it. I also found it interesting that Hotsuka is so blind to his own failings—he can admit, a little, that what he did to the woman was wrong, but he almost never thinks about her after the fact, focusing instead on his son. He doesn’t consider how easy it was for him to turn from “saving her”, which in turn granted her a life far worse than the one she used to have.

But the journey is about his own character growth, and how he begins to see humans as people he can’t just run roughshod over, imposing his own will. (I still wish he’d been forced to tie up the loose end with his wife, but it’s hard to wish more of him in her life.) He also discovers just what it means to be caught between races as he is, and how that lends him certain advantages over normal humanity.

Overall this was a pretty good read. The fantasy world is Asian-flavored but distinctive, and Hotsuka ends with a new purpose that I hope future books will explore more. I rate this book Recommended.

Attack on Titan s2 (Anime)

Title: Attack on Titan
Episodes: 26-37 (season 2)

Annie has been captured, but her existence has brought up huge questions. While the Scouts investigate what it will take to reclaim the land they lost between the walls, a new, beastly Titan emerges.

I’m not the biggest Attack on Titan fan (which is why it took so long to get through season 2), but this second season did a lot to address some of the problems I had with the first. Secondary characters, such as Connie, Jean, Ymir, Christa, etc, all got a chance to get a lot more fleshed out. Some of the origin of the Titans is revealed. On the other hand, the larger picture is unfolding very slowly, with only tiny glimpses here and there hinting at the unknown forces in play within the walls and without. We still haven’t reached the basement, there’s not really any new information about Eren’s father, etc.

One thing that’s still true is that a lot of characters show up only to die pretty quickly, so it’s hard to get invested in anyone in particular, because there’s pretty good odds they’ll die within an episode or two. But with more of a “core” cast now, that feels like less of a concern than it did in the first season.

I liked that this season did more to deconstruct Eren’s uniqueness, while at the same time highlighting him (especially the last episode). In other words, it was nice to see the various Titans all have their little quirks—Annie’s ability to make that unbreakable shield came up last time, but we see other abilities from other Titans. And it solves one of the early mysteries in an offhanded fashion that then provides the conflict for the back half of the season.

As always, the action is intense, the animation is strong, and the horror elements are well done. I do like how the series consistently shows people pushed past their limits by the terror and pain they’re facing, and who break under that pressure. I’m still not a fan of the ugly naked Titans, but at least there’s plenty of zooming around with the ODM. The last episode had some particularly good shots of near-flying battle sequences. Recommended, but you’ll want to see the first season first as this one relies heavily on everything that happened before.

 

Song of the Sword (Animas #3)

Title: Song of the Sword

Author: C. R. Grey

Series: Animas #3

Bailey and Tremelo rebelled publicly against Queen Viviana, but the hoped-for revolution is still a distant dream. Driven to the tunnels, hiding from those who would turn them in out of fear or because they believe in the power of Dominance, the rebels are trying to figure out a plan. Tremelo wants to tinker and create something that can strengthen the bond. Many of his followers want war. Bailey just wants to not be sitting around. But before they can come up with something concrete, circumstances may decide for them . . .

I really liked the first book, wasn’t as impressed with the second, and found this one to be an okay ending. There’s so much here that I wish had gotten more focus. Phi’s dream of flight gets an unexpected outlet—but the cost turned out to be different than it initially looked, and I guess it can only be done once? I wasn’t clear on why that couldn’t be repeatable. This is the biggest magic the series has presented so far, and I wanted to see more.

Gwen’s problems with the visions were well done. She’s not sure if she’s seeing something that can be changed or not, and she’s getting enough of a vision without the context to misinterpret many things. I really liked how Tremelo confronts her at the end with the difference between her and the other Seers.

I didn’t like how the battle turned out. Viviana built an army of machines and dominated animal wills. It seemed odd that the machines all behaved just like the animals in the end (trying to be vague to avoid spoilers). It was also very odd that Viviana had followers enthusiastic enough to build and fight with her army, but Viviana herself was the only player that needed to be removed to let everything work out.

Overall this wasn’t a bad finish (except for Viviana), but I finished feeling like I’d rather have had maybe another book so that some of the best parts of this one had room to expand. I rate this book Neutral.

The Monster’s Daughter (Ministry of SUITs #2)

Title: The Monster’s Daughter

Author: Paul Gamble

Series: Ministry of SUITs #2

Jack and Trudy return, in an adventure just as insane as the original. This time, Jack is struggling to figure out the meaning behind a sinister new fracking operation, a weird aquarium, a bath and body shop with curiously powerful products, and more. He also stumbles across the reasons why there’s always a spider in the bathtub and learns a new superpower. But he’ll need every bit of twisted thinking to escape this nefarious plot . . .

I had a lot of fun with this volume too, although it didn’t grab me quite as much as the original (possibly because I was expecting the daughter of the title to be Trudy, as the book was heavily focusing on her relationship with her mother, and then it turned out to be something else).

It’s fun to see even the “normal” people in Jack’s life, like a classmate convinced he’s a superhero because he managed to harness static electricity, are going off the rails. It would be amusing if Jack really is responsible for upping the weird quotient in his general vicinity.

Also, like the last book, this features plenty of perfectly logical explanations for various oddities in everyday life, and plenty of footnotes to expound on them. (“This is 100 percent true. Or at least it will be in about ten minutes after I’ve finished editing the right section in Wikipedia.”)

I was disappointed that the mystery of Trudy’s mom doesn’t really resolve. They get so close, too. Other than that, though, the story wraps up nicely. You could probably start here but I’d recommend reading the first book to catch up on the background. I rate this book Recommended.